Colonial Exploration and Expansion
Rather than being set in a single historical context, The Witch of Blackbird Pond might be better considered in light of several overlapping historical contexts, all of which would have shaped the world and characters of the novel in different ways. The first of these is that of colonial exploration and expansion. The Witch of Blackbird Pond opens in 1687 and is set in Connecticut Colony. This is less than 60 years after the famous landing of the Mayflower in 1620 and roughly 50 years since the River Colony was founded in 1636. The River Colony combined with two other colonies, Saybrook Colony (founded 1644) and New Haven Colony (founded 1662) to become Connecticut Colony. These factors combine to mean that older characters such as Hannah Tupper may well remember the origins of their community. The multiple origins of the colony also meant that though the colony is relatively new and relatively homogeneous in ethnicity and religion, it has known political change and historical diversity; these period farmers and craftsmen are politically savvy in many ways.
However, these northern colonies most often referred to in the novel (Massachusetts and Connecticut) were not just new political entities. They were very deeply devoted to living religious lives and as such should be viewed as one of several ongoing expressions of the Protestant Reformation. While popular unrest regarding the abuses within the Catholic church had existed for decades earlier, the traditional starting date for the Reformation is Martin Luther's dramatic nailing of his 95 theses to the church door in 1517. This started a wave of what was intended to be reform internal to the church and meant to bring decadent existing practices into line with the ideals articulated in the Bible. When this proved impossible, new religious denominations formed: Lutherans, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans all branched off, each making its own interpretation of the Bible and developing worship practices and codes of conduct based on those interpretations.
The Puritans who founded Connecticut had themselves rebelled against the Anglican church in the late sixteenth century. At first they were “merely” dissenters against England’s official church and were “merely” persecuted and denied access to various professions requiring religious conformity. However, after decades of effort, many Puritans finally decided the Anglican church was beyond reform. Various groups started emigrating in search of a place where they could worship more freely—and, it should be added, more rigorously, for the Puritans sought, as their name indicates, a pure life according to pure faith.
However, since their faith led them first to criticize, and then to separate from, the Church of England, this meant their spiritual goals had very real political implications. The Puritan movement occurred during a period when England was facing very real challenges due to religious clashes and dissent, and when Anglicanism seemed under assault from many sides. In 1588, the English defeated the (Catholic) Spanish Armada, and in 1606 Parliament established an Oath of Allegiance. James I, who was king during the establishment of Connecticut Colony, was relatively lenient toward Puritans, but his son Charles I took the throne in 1625, and Charles was a very different monarch. Charles, who married a Catholic, was a believer in the absolute right of kings and regularly interfered with the religious practices and established rights of British subjects. This eventually led to a civil war and the execution of Charles.
The monarchy was reestablished in 1660, but by this time, the Puritans had lost any real trust in the crown. They had been accepted and rejected, given rights and had them denied, and so on. What’s more, the very makeup of Connecticut Colony would give them reason to distrust Charles II. One of the judges who had condemned Charles I to...
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